Now and then he would drop from sight,
days at a stretch. No doubt he found his way
to drink—some suitcase full of spirits—
and, likely, to some paid romance;
he knew the poignancy of that
from both sides of the street—the dwarfish man
who wrote “Ten Cents a Dance.”

I think of him, his low head low,
trundling through some dim, ratty hotel lobby.
Under his breath, he curses when
one of the great ones (“Blue Moon,” say,
or “I Could Write a Book,” or “I Wish
I Were in Love Again”) again comes piping
over the p.a.,

at his side some sweet-faced young man—
or sweet enough—or young enough—who hails
from those spellbound Great Plains (his story
a pretty once-upon-a-time)
where silos grow instead of skyscrapers,
horizons call, and nobody has ever
heard of a triple rhyme.

This young man isn’t apt to know
the melody (the elevator door
clangs shut, the huffing car ascends),
and still less, thankfully, the neatly
turned tortuous lyric… Soon now, a gorgeous
silence will bloom, and the unworthy, wordless at last,
disclose himself completely.

This Issue

October 19, 2006